Roy Hodgson refused to declare guiding England to the 2014 World Cup finals as his greatest achievement lest it should spoil a few happy memories in Switzerland, who also prospered under his guidance to reach America in 1994. Diplomacy might just go out of the window should England be paired with the Swiss when the World Cup groups are drawn on Friday in Brazil, for Hodgson would be delighted to face his former country instead of Germany, Spain or one of the four seeded sides from South America.
Though seventh in Fifa's frequently unreliable world rankings when the seeds were determined, and therefore keeping Italy, Holland and Portugal as well as England out of the first pot, Switzerland appear to represent a weak link in the seeding arrangements As soon as they are assigned a group on Friday, everyone else will want to be in it, regardless of the fact that Ottmar Hitzfeld's players were unbeaten in qualifying or beat Spain in their opening match at the last World Cup. The only two other remotely comforting companions for England would be Colombia or Belgium, though the former have climbed to fourth in the rankings, while the latter lack recent tournament experience but appear to have some of the best players in Europe.
At least England, in the pot with the lesser European nations, have a good chance of avoiding most of their immediate neighbours, though the situation is complicated by the need for one side from Europe, possibly France (the format of the draw will be decided three days in advance) to go into pot three. In Hodgson's worst nightmare England might end up in a group with Germany, Chile and Australia, even one containing Brazil and Argentina could also feature France and Mexico.
While the permutations are almost endless, based on England's recent World Cups there is little point worrying in advance. For one thing England seem to be going backwards in tournaments, after the relative highs of France and Japan the form in Germany and South Africa went from bad to worse. And for another England often seem to play tougher groups better than apparently straightforward ones. All were agreed in advance that the United States, Algeria and Slovenia three years ago represented as easy a group as could be wished for. Yet England managed two goals and a single win in the group games and played so poorly it almost came as a relief when Germany drew an emphatic line under the campaign in Bloemfontein.
England also struggled to hit any heights in Germany in 2006, never really impressing against Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago or Sweden in the group and Ecuador in the round of 16. However, the last time they found themselves in a group of death, in Japan, they progressed quite confidently and let Argentina and Nigeria catch the early flights home.
The surprisingly easy 3-0 rout of Denmark in the first knockout round in Japan notwithstanding, England's performance against Argentina in Sapporo was about as good as World Cup football has got for this country since Graham Taylor's team failed to make it to USA 94, even if Sven-Goran Eriksson's players spent most of the second half defending for their lives.
The only performance to match it was the one against Argentina in Saint-Etienne in 1998, when Glenn Hoddle's side gave the world a tantalising view of what might have been possible had David Beckham been able to keep his petulance under control or had England ever been any good in penalty shoot-outs. Heroically though England played, it is important to remember that they were only playing Argentina because of an unexpected defeat in Toulouse that allowed Romania to top the group.Hoddle said he would have preferred Argentina anyway, and in fairness Croatia did go on to reach the semi-final after dismissing Romania in the round of 16 then putting three goals past Germany. It still serves to show that just about any innocent looking World Cup group game is capable of tripping England up.
With that in mind, and taking into account that if England cannot regard themselves superior to Chile (lost 2-0 at Wembley last month) or Algeria (0-0 in Cape Town in 2010) then only teams from the very last pot such as Iran or Costa Rica can be regarded as beatable, it seems pointless hoping for an easy route or a kind draw. Especially as Algeria appear to have improved since the last World Cup. Might as well hope for Brazil, France and Japan. At least we will know we have been in a tournament. Last time felt a bit like turning up at a party just to peer in through the window.